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Mary Chapin Carpenter: intelligent songs, sincerely sung

The Vault, Long Beach, Cal, June 12, 2004

By Brian Wahlert

LONG BEACH, CA - Mary Chapin Carpenter, dressed in her casual red print top and blue jeans, starkly contrasted with the elaborate lights, full-bodied sound system and dinner theatre setting of this classy new downtown club.

Then again, Carpenter's beautiful artistic simplicity has always stood out from much of the overbearing glitz and glamour of today's country music. But in the end, this venue's high tech environment amounted to a moot point, since this was a night of music dedicated to intelligent songs, sincerely sung.

Over half of Carpenter's approximately two-hour set was focused upon songs from her just released "Between Here And Gone" album. And as with the most of Carpenter's studio work, this disc includes a few true gems. For instance, it's hard to imagine anybody other than Carpenter singing a song like "Girls Like Me," a work of high praise for relatively ordinary women. It seems to suggest that you should never judge a book by its cover, just as you ought not base your first impressions of a woman solely upon her looks.

The same can be said about Carpenter: She may not exude visual star quality, but the songs she sings are undeniably soulful and heartfelt, even though she may look just like any other ordinary girl. Ultimately, many of the powerful messages in her songs resonate with the listener long after the "star" has left the stage.

Other new compositions tonight included "My Heaven," which paints the spiritual in much more humanist colorings, and "Luna's Gone," inspired by the fickle nature of her pet cat.

Only "Grand Central Station" (another new song), which tries just a little too hard to make a grand statement about the affect of 9/11 upon an average city worker, came off overly strident and fell flat.

Carpenter interspersed these newer songs with older favorites, including the saucy "Shut Up and Kiss Me," and the amorous "I Feel Lucky." Surprisingly, her big hit, "Passionate Kisses," came early in the set (only her third song in), and the crowd-pleasing and danceable "Down at the Twist and Shout" was skipped altogether this night. But since this was more of a 'sit down and think,' then a 'stand up and dance' kind of evening, such an exclusion made perfect sense.

Opener Jim Lauderdale looked equally out of place on a stage that he jokingly compared to being on the set of Star Trek. Nevertheless, this songwriter's songwriter, who was armed only with an acoustic guitar, sang wonderfully on "Headed for the Hills" (the title cut of his latest album), and the lighthearted "Don't Make Me Come Over There And Love You," a hit for George Strait. This crowd was - not surprisingly - primed for Carpenter, but Lauderdale kept these folks on his side with his humorous between song chatter, his unflappable smile and songs were just too good to ignore.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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